By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer
— The abbreviated campaign for the District 19A seat in the state House of Representatives is down to its final two days.
Attempting to make up ground after giving Republican Allen Quist and Independence Party candidate Tim Gieseke a two-week head start, the DFL had a large door-knocking crew at work on Saturday for Democratic nominee Clark Johnson — including House Speaker Paul Thissen in North Mankato.
Democrats also have two popular incumbents scheduled to headline a rally in St. Peter Monday as the party works to retain the seat they’ve held continuously for nearly a decade.
Radio ads are running on behalf of all three candidates, and Republicans were recruiting volunteers to go door-to-door with Quist brochures and fill phone-bank hours through Tuesday as all sides predict that get-out-the-vote efforts will be key to victory in what is expected to be a relatively low-turnout election.
Back to the Future
It’s been just 12 days since the field was officially set for Tuesday’s special election in District 19A to pick a successor to Terry Morrow, a St. Peter Democrat who resigned the seat to take a job in Chicago.
But it was three decades ago that Quist and Johnson first took the plunge into politics with a run for the state House. Minnesota State University political science professor Joe Kunkel dug through his collection of campaign literature and found brochures from Quist’s inaugural run in 1982 and Johnson’s 1984 campaign.
“Maybe there’s a story there — ‘Battle of the Beards ...’” Kunkel wrote.
Both candidates, shown the photos, recalled those first forays into running for office.
“We’ve both changed a little bit,” Quist said.
Quist said he was cleaning a plugged culvert on his farm when a neighbor and longtime Republican activists stopped by.
With waders on, up to his thighs in ice-cold water, Quist was quizzed about whether he’d be interested in running for the Legislature. He eventually agreed to seek the seat, which was left open with the retirement of Democratic Rep. Carl Johnson, survived a marathon endorsing convention that Quist remembered lasting more than 20 rounds of balloting and won in November of 1982.
Quist won re-election in 1984 (and in 1986 before losing twice to St. Peter Democrat Don Ostrom in 1988 and 1990) while fellow Republican Mark Piepho was winning the neighboring House seat in Mankato. Piepho’s opponent? A young Clark Johnson.
Mankato was in its final stages as a Republican-leaning town back then, and Clark stayed active as a volunteer in the DFL Party following his defeat as other Democrats such as Ostrom, John Dorn and John Hottinger began winning area legislative seats in ensuing elections. This year marks the first time he’s run for office since that initial attempt.
“I’ve been joking, if I don’t win this time, I’ll have to do it again in 28 years,” Johnson said.
He’s makin’ a list ...
A month ago, Republicans settled on Quist as their candidate and the Independence Party made Gieseke their nominee, but the Democrats didn’t officially settle on Johnson until a Jan. 29 primary election.
Quist said the two-week head start was used primarily for planning and organizing, despite that his congressional campaign had only been moth-balled for six weeks following his Nov. 6 loss to Democratic Congressman Tim Walz.
“A legislative campaign is a lot different than a congressional campaign,” Quist said.
Much of the work involved identification of likely Republican voters to contact and encourage to vote on Tuesday.
“We have an identified-Republican list, which is not very good,” he said. “So we’re trying to improve it, because the name of the game in specials is identifying your supporters and getting them to the polls, obviously.”
There have been numerous media reports about the Democratic Party nationally taking a big lead in the sophistication of their voter ID system. Quist suspects that’s true in Minnesota, as well.
“I know how good our information is,” he said. “I don’t know how good the information is for the DFL. I would not be surprised if it’s better.”
Nicollet County Republican Party co-chair Carol Stevenson said that may have been true, but she believes any gap has been narrowed or eliminated in the past month.
“We worked very hard on our voter ID,” Stevenson said.
Big guns, gun control
One notable difference in the campaigns is the presence of state party leaders on behalf of District 19A candidates. Gieseke had the IP state chairman and former IP gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner in St. Peter for a rally and fundraiser on Jan. 29.
And, along with the House speaker knocking on North Mankato doors Saturday, the DFL has a rally planned for Johnson at Gustavus Adolphus College on Monday featuring Gov. Mark Dayton and Walz. The 5 p.m. event is at Alumni Hall on the campus of Gustavus, where students have provided the margin of victory for past Democratic House candidates. Walz also recorded a radio ad encouraging voters to turn out for Johnson.
Top Republicans were on the campaign trail on Saturday, too, door-knocking in support of a GOP candidate. But it was House candidate Tama Theis, the Republican nominee for a vacant House seat in the St. Cloud area, that brought out House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt and at least three other Republican lawmakers, including former House Majority Leader Matt Dean, according to Twitter reports.
Stevenson said Republicans have no local rallies planned leading up to Tuesday, focusing instead on get-out-the-vote efforts. Door-knocking, literature drops and phone-banking were underway Saturday and were to continue today and Monday.
No counter-rally is planned for Gustavus during the Dayton-Walz event, but the party will be active on campus Monday, according to Stevenson, who said Gustavus has a strong College Republicans organization.
Local Republicans are confident of a Quist victory, helped by in no small part by Quist’s opposition to gun-control.
“I think the Second Amendment issue really has people interested,” Stevenson said.
A smaller force
Gieseke’s Independence Party has a much smaller cadre of volunteers and a more limited campaign infrastructure, but the 1st District IP has been running radio ads on his behalf. Gieseke said his final push is focused on visiting businesses in the district, and he’s recruited a few volunteers to hang brochures on door knobs.
“I’m just going to hit the coffee shops,” the rural Nicollet farmer and consultant said.
Weather permitting, Gieseke also hopes to join the crowd at Gustavus on Monday — the first day of classes after an extended break — to let students know there’s a third choice.
“Depending on the blizzard conditions, I’m certainly interested in getting up there with my message, too,” he said.
The weather, by the way, is supposed to clear well before polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday.
For more information
Residents of House District 19A — which is dominated by Nicollet County but includes neighborhoods on Mankato’s north and west sides and the Kasota area of Le Sueur County — have a number of options if they want to bone up on the candidates prior to making a choice on Tuesday.
Lengthy profiles of Quist, Johnson and Gieseke are on The Free Press website at mankatofreepress.com. Videos of two half-hour forums involving all three contenders and moderated by KTOE News Director Wendy Wilde are available at ktoe.com.
Greater Mankato Growth, the regional chamber of commerce, has candidate responses to several questions on its website at greatermankato.com/candidates/37. Just click on the box beside each candidate’s name and then click on “View & Compare.”
Gieseke’s website, gieseke-mn19a.com, includes his three radio ads plus extended videos where he explains his views, including the “shared governance” model he wants to bring to the Capitol. Quist’s website is allenquist.com and Johnson’s is clarkjohnson4mn.org.